The story of 64-year-old Diana Nyad, who swam the more than 100 miles from the shores of Cuba to Key West this September, made some pretty big headlines. This wasn’t Nyad’s first record-setting effort; in fact, she attempted the Cuba-to-Florida swim five times before succeeding. Four of those attempts—including the successful one—were undertaken after she turned 60.
But there’s more. Nyad not only completed her 35-year old dream but also became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage. That’s 103 miles—from Havana to Key West—through some of the world’s most shark-infested waters. She did consent to wear a jellyfish-protection suit that was a “life-and-death measure.” Nyad is a fascinating combination of endurance and courage in one 64-year-young body.
However, Nyad wasn’t the only senior to compete in an incredible event or break a record this year. Here are a few examples of some seniors who have defied their age and their odds to make their mark on the record books this year.
Master Tao Porchon-Lynch is a 95-year-old yoga master, ballroom dancer and former actress, among other things. She currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of oldest living yoga teacher. She founded the Westchester Institute of Yoga in 1982. Porchon-Lynch is a testament to yoga’s physical and mental health benefits, as well as its amazing ability to slow the aging process. For Porchon-Lynch, it’s not just about keeping her body in shape: she swears by yoga as a way to get past fear and break through personal barriers.
Then there are the triathletes. An Ironman Triathlon is a grueling competition consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run all in one day. This year there were three octogenarian competitors at the Ironman Triathlon Championship in Hawaii. Lew Hollander, known as “Iron Lew,” became the oldest Ironman finisher at the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in 2011. His top competition is France Cokan, who is as much a competitor as he is a friend, the two often pushing each other to go further, faster. Then there is Sister Madonna Buder, an 82-year-old competitor as well as a Catholic nun, who has earned the nickname, “The Iron Nun.”
Finally, a man who can squash just about any stereotype – literally – Sy Perlis. At 91 years old, Perlis has held the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters record since he bench-pressed 187.2 pounds this June, beating the old record of 135 pounds set in 2005. Perlis decided to start lifting competitively around age 60, and by 2010 he was a world titlist in the 181-pound division – note that his weight class is lighter than his record!
These and other stories of amazing seniors remind us that breaking records and achieving personal bests isn’t the sole prerogative of us youngsters (those under 60). Clearly, the axiom of “mind over matter” still holds true for senior competitors like these who choose to believe that they can be athletes, too. Regardless of their finish, they’re all champions at heart.